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Is your Wal-Mart making you fat?

Researchers find that people are prone to gain weight after a supercenter opens nearby.

By Karen Datko Jan 25, 2011 6:17PM

McDonald's often gets some blame when people jaw about the national obesity rate. Now new research by economists indicates that Wal-Mart is a factor in weight gain -- possibly because of low prices for unhealthful processed foods.


The study abstract says:

An additional Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points. These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s, but the resulting increase in medical expenditures offsets only a small portion of consumers' savings from shopping at Supercenters.

The study focused on the period between 1996 and 2005, when 1,569 supercenters opened their doors across the U.S.

The study doesn't suggest that we'll all end up using the motorized carts once a Wal-Mart supercenter opens nearby. It did find that "women, low-income families and people living in less densely populated areas" are most prone to pack on pounds after the supercenter arrives, The Gazette of Montreal reported. And that's after other possible causes were accounted for.


Why would this happen? After all, those supercenters provide a large supply of fresh fruits and vegetables and sell them at a competitive price.


In short, the cause is unknown. The study authors speculated that it could be the

other groceries Wal-Mart sells -- the processed foods that fill most of the shelves. Post continues after video.

Also: "It's not just about Wal-Mart underselling the competitor. It's about the competitors cutting their prices in response to competition from Wal-Mart," University of North Carolina economist Charles Courtemanche, a co-author of the study, told The Gazette. "Someone might never step foot in a Wal-Mart, but they still might pay less for their food."


Maybe it's also the bigger selection of video games, which translates into less exercise.


Mother Nature Network blogger Siel Ju raised another possibility:

Many experts have said that having a Wal-Mart pop up in a community can force smaller mom-and-pop shops out of business because they can't compete on that scale -- thereby leading to less walkable neighborhoods and more driving. And most people would agree that if you eat cheap processed food while walking less and driving more, you're likely to get fat.

Obviously more research would need to be done to get to the bottom of this. But what do you think? Does access to cheaper food make people eat more? Do supermarket chains push unhealthful processed foods rather than the fresh foods that are better for us? Or are we guilty of bad choices and nutritional ignorance?


The researchers stressed that Wal-Mart should not be demonized. But what should we reasonably expect from big chains such as Wal-Mart and McDonald's?


Just last week, Wal-Mart announced a commitment to selling more-healthful food. Jeff Reeves of, posting at our sister blog Top Stocks, wrote:

The in-store plan involves taking unhealthy salts, saturated fats, trans fats and sugar out of Wal-Mart store-brand products under the Great Value and Sam's Choice labels. The retailer also has pledged to lower prices on fruits and vegetables.

Other food companies are expected to follow suit.


More from MSN Money:

Jan 26, 2011 11:50AM

I buy my ammo from walmart because it's cheaper and as a result i shoot my gun more often which leads to my gun wearing out quicker.  This must be walmart's fault?

I also buy dvd's and blurays from walmart because they're cheaper and this is wearing out my bluray player.  This must also be walmart's fault? 

I got into an accident on my way to walmart the other day to make more purchases.  I suppose this is also walmart's fault? (even though the other driver ran a stop sign!)

This is ridiculous.  Stupid **** story about walmart causing obesity.  My parents taught me when I got in trouble as a youngster it wasn't anyone's fault but my own.  So, I blame Karen Datko (The reporter for this story) for this stupid story, considering she's the one that wrote it.  It's your fault, Karen, that I just wasted 10 minutes of my life reading and then commenting on this story when I could have eaten the blueberry muffin I bought at 7-eleven this morning ( 7-eleven is in trouble!!!)

Jan 26, 2011 11:28AM
I don't like wal-mart for other reasons, but to blame them for making people fat? Ridiculous. As stated in the article, the produce is pretty darn cheap at Wal-mart but people don't LIKE produce, they want the fat/carb/sugar laden garbage. I'm not going to blame safeway for making me a drunkard because they sell beer and wine. People need to stop and realize that they are in charge of their own waistlines. I'm on a tight budget and a single mom. I'm healthy and trim, we eat loads of vegetables and fruits and lean meat on the cheap. It can be done and I'm tired of people saying that they can't afford to eat healthy. Put down the bag of cheetos and buy an apple. 
Jan 26, 2011 12:04PM
It is amazing how EVERYTHING is someone else's fault.  I guess Walmart is opening everyone's mouth and shoving food in them now.  Unbelievable
Jan 26, 2011 11:07AM

This just in:

A new study shows that life is the leading cause of death. 



Jan 26, 2011 12:09PM

It is so absurd to blame Wal-mart, and MacDonalds for people who make bad choices. There is constant education out there for excersice and healthy eating, there is no excuse, it is a personal choice. If you really are trying to save money, and compare the price of an apple; or any piece of fruit,  to a bag of chips, the apple is cheaper, and healthier. So have an apple a day, instead of the darn chips.

Jan 25, 2011 10:31PM
What a load of BULL!  Everybody's looking for a scapegoat rather than take personal responsibility for their own decisions and habits.  You do not gain weight simply by walking into the store.  You gain weight because you stuff your face full of Cheetos and ice cream.  Wal-Mart did not make you buy the low cost, processed, foods.  They did not force it on you, and truth be told, you didn't even ask their advice before buying it.  You bought the food because you're a lazy person with poor personal habits.  Too lazy to prepare a meal that you didn't take out of a box or bag first.  Get off the couch, make better choices, get some exercise and gain some self respect.  Blaming others for your own weakness won't help anyone.  This "Study" does nothing except to empower losers, to stay losers.
Jan 26, 2011 2:43AM
Please, people...   When are we going to start taking RESPONSIBILITY  for our actions.  Yes, there are plenty of things on the WalMart shelves that are not good for us...  but last I checked the Greeter does not have a gun to anyone's head telling them what to buy.   They have plenty of good, healthy CHOICES also...  make some!!
Jan 25, 2011 11:39PM
BULL !!!  I am FAT and it's nobody's fault but my own..  No o0ne told me to go out and buy a bunch of junk food.   It's all on me...  This is real dumb...
Jan 25, 2011 10:34PM
First let me start by saying that I am overweight.But this is dumb. It is not Wal-Mart's or anybody elses fault. It mine and mine alone. I get so tired of people blaming other things for thier problems. WAKE UP! Stop blaming your problems on other people.Grow up and and admit that you are the problem.
Jan 25, 2011 10:34PM
This is one of the MOST PATHETIC STORIES I'VE EVER HEARD. Highly uneducated and BIASED. 

WalMart as a supercenter is the same as your grocery markets + retail clothing + small appliance stores. They carry the same products.


How much was the author paid? Who SPONSORED THIS SO-CALLED RESEARCH? 
Feb 3, 2011 2:36PM
Two words: "Personal responsibility".  When you walk into a Walmart SuperCenter, the first thing you see are the fruits and vegetables.  If people walk past them to get to the Hot Pockets and Pizza Rolls, that's not the store's fault.  Grow up and start making good decisions for yourselves and stop blaming others for your weight.
Jan 25, 2011 10:04PM
Jan 26, 2011 9:44AM

Typical slant, blaming others, for what one has become.  The "lazy" American is not lazy because their lazy, someone made them become lazy, someone "made" them fat.  I live in Fayetteville, AR. the headquarters of Wal-Mart.  Plenty of lean mean fighting machines around here.  We are a college town with 32 miles of in town hiking / biking trails.  If you want to get healthy, there is every way possible to become that way.  


I do shop there on occasion, and find there produce running over the shelves, and the chips and dip are in the futherest corners of the grocery section, the produce is right up front, and it is reasonably priced, especially the in season stuff.  This is typical  "blame someone else" for my behavior junk, force fed us by "victimization media" which is prominent in today's fat and lazy society.  Funny I've never been overweight in my entire life.  Could it be I chose to be healthy?, instead of becoming a fat guy?   

Jan 26, 2011 9:23AM
WOW!!  Wal-Mart is to blame for obesity now?  So, if all the Wal-Marts across the country are closed down people won't find their way to the nearest Publix, Winn Dixie or Food Lion to get their food?  It's hard to believe that Wal-Mart is to blame.  They sell as much fresh fruits and vegetables as they do processed foods...all grocery stores do.  Since the blame is being passed around......What about those companies who deliver foods to peoples home? Shouldn't they be blamed also?  I think each person is responsible for what they put in their bodies.  I just think its crazy how the blame is placed on the companies instead of on the people who make a conscious decision to purchase and consume processed foods in excess. 
Jan 25, 2011 11:31PM
avatar there nothing in this country that is not the fault of a big business any more!!!  I mean come on.  Let's try blaming the stupid researchers that waste millions of research dollars on stupid studies like this one we're complaining about!!!  
Jan 26, 2011 6:25AM

I live in Tucson, AZ.  The nearest Walmart Supercenter is 15 miles away.  The citizens of Tucson think they're too good for one.  So let's see...That leaves Fry's, Food City, Albertson's & Safeway to blame for people around here being fat.  Oh yes & Trader Joes & Sunflower.  Our two "healthy" stores! 

Let's not forget Coscto where they sell the muffins by the bajillions and give out samples of just about everything where people act like they've never eaten b4.  That includes you "skinny" people.  I saw people damn near attack an employee for chocolate milk samples!  I think everyone has had chocolate milk @ one point or another in their life!

Leave Walmart alone & blame the person that's where the blame should be.

Jan 26, 2011 11:02AM

I'm fat. I'm fat because I'm lazy. I freely admit it to anyone who wants to ask why I'm fat.


I do shop at Wal-Mart for staples like brown rice, frozen veggies and usually bread and milk- because they have better prices. They have a better selection of ground turkey products (Perdue 99% fat free) than my local grocery store and the produce is priced better, BUT the quality of the produce is sometimes the point of having to go to another store for that.


At the Wal-Mart I shop I can feed my family of three dinner for about $20.00 total. Chicken breast, frozen broccoli/cauliflower​, baked potato and a salad (bagged salad mix) with cucumber and tomato.


It's not just us fata$$es that buy unhealthy products. It's not just the fatties that are unhealthy. I see plenty of people who one would assume healthy because of their size, consuming/purchasing​ ridiculous amounts of sodium/fat/sugar products.


People just don't care or don't think about it. It doesn't have anything to do with being uneducated or low has to do with personal choice.




Jan 26, 2011 10:51AM
Most people aren't overweight because of their environment or what stores or restaurants are near by.  They have the choice to not buy unhealthy food or not eat at fast food restaurants. I'm a lower income single mom of two and we eat healthy in my house.  No excuse that other people can't do the same.
Jan 26, 2011 1:44AM
That's FUNNY!!

So pencils cause misspellings?
Driving a car causes them to speed, run red lights and run down pedestrians?

Jan 25, 2011 11:45PM
Low prices for unhealthy foods?  It's not like Walmart is putting a gun to the consumers head to purchase these unhealthy foods.  The article also states the supercenter stocks fruits and vegetables at a competitive price.  The consumer has the choice to buy unprocessed foods but who wants to "prep" foods to be eaten while they have the convenience of re-heating a package or can of already prepared food?  Also with portion size out of control this confounds the problem.
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